Countertop Cooking Appliances: Which is Best for You?
The popularity of countertop cooking appliances has exploded over the last few years. There’s the multi-cooker Instant Pot®, the air fryer, the timeless slow cooker, and a variety of other combination appliances. With all of these appliances being portable, they’re great for taking along in the truck, and they’re relevant now more than ever as folks are increasingly looking for “home-cooked” options or are unable to eat out due to the current pandemic. You might remember our previous post on recipes for the Instant Pot®, which came about due to so many drivers receiving one for Christmas. We’ve also heard from lots of drivers about their use of the air fryer or traditional slow cooker, and we’ve heard several debates about which appliance is the best. Today we’re breaking it down for those who have considered a purchase but are overwhelmed by the options and not sure which would be the best fit for them.
The Slow Cooker
WHAT: The Crockpot® calls itself “The Original Slow Cooker”, though there are many brands that make a similar appliance. There’s no doubt that the slow cooker is the most well-known electric countertop appliance, and most of us are familiar with how it works. Slow cookers use a lower temperature than other cooking methods and therefore take longer to cook a dish. They can also keep things safely warm for a period of time.
BENEFITS: The slow cooker is simple to use and can be left unattended for many hours (“set it and forget it”), making it a no-fuss experience once the ingredients are in it. The slow cooker is also good for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat.
DRAWBACKS: The slow cooker only has one cooking capability, and the product is usually a soft texture. Think soups, roasts, ribs, and “boiled” vegetables.
PRICE RANGE: $30 to $170 depending on size and whether it’s manual or programmable. (Manual likely has warm, low, and high settings and has to manually be changed from one to the other. Programmable may have options for setting a timer or automatically moving from high to warm at a desired point, for example).
WHAT: The most well-known brand is the Instant Pot®, and multi-cookers of this variety are best described as an electric pressure cooker, which is the function that makes them special. They use a combination of heat and high pressure to decrease cooking times, e.g. chicken thighs can go from frozen to ready-to-eat in 30 minutes. These multi-cookers have several other capabilities, too: they can slow cook, steam, keep warm, sauté, brown, and even make yogurt.
BENEFITS: They can drastically decrease food preparation time, and the ability to perform several functions means the possibility for a wider variety of outcomes. It might also mean that fewer dishes are used in preparation. The cooking surface is stainless steel, which is a benefit for those who like non-toxic cooking.
DRAWBACKS: Recipes for them can be somewhat complicated with lots of steps, and the cooking process isn’t actually “instant”. Some users find them hard to clean.
PRICE RANGE: $65 to $170 depending on size and special features like WiFi or Bluetooth capability.
The Air Fryer
WHAT: The air fryer is known for mimicking deep fried food but by using only hot air and a tiny amount of oil. It uses rapid circulation of air, much like a convection oven, to crisp food.
BENEFITS: It’s easy to use and crisps food in about 15-20 minutes, much quicker than would an oven. It uses a fraction of the oil that deep frying requires, making it desirable for the health-conscious.
DRAWBACKS: Everything comes out the same crunchy consistency, so it’s best suited for proteins and vegetables. It doesn’t have a large capacity, so batch cooking is needed for a large group. It often has a nonstick surface, which is a concern for those who are serious about non-toxic cooking. Finally, some users find it difficult to clean.
PRICE RANGE: $60 to $160 depending on size and special features.
WHAT: The newest category of countertop appliance is the combination cooker. It has all the capabilities of both the electric pressure cooker and the air fryer, which makes it understandably desirable.
BENEFITS: This one is the most versatile in terms of capability.
DRAWBACKS: It can be somewhat complicated to use at first, as well as difficult to clean. It also has the highest price tag.
PRICE RANGE: $130 to $240 for the most popular varieties.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider if thinking about making a purchase, and the above information only highlights some of it! Our best suggestion is to ask around to see what others are using, what they like and dislike, and what they think is worth it or not. And if you’re reading this and already have a favorite, make sure to comment your thoughts and any favorite recipes. We can all learn from each other!